Module 2 Module 2 Module 2 Module 2
Module 2 Presentation Readings Assignments

Go on to Part 3 - The Functions and Effects of Culture

Go back to Part 1 - What is Culture?

Developing a Dominant Culture

Before mass communications, all culture was "local" - defined by language, village customs, and religion.

This was true in America until the 20th Century. America's involvement with the first World War exposed hundreds of thousands of Americans to European culture. One of the popular songs of World War One was "How do you keep them down on the farm after they've seen Parie?" (Paris).

Tres Riche Heurs of Duc Du Barry - October
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Starting in the 1900's, men and women learned how to act from films, radio, and mass media advertisements.

Immigrants, unable to understand English, filled the silent movie houses and learned how to be "American".


But a national American common culture didn't develop until the rise of radio in the 1930's.

Radio provided a common experience for families across America. From the rich to the poor, from one coast to another, the radio was a national "campfire" telling us stories.

Radio Advertisement
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Mass communication can create a "dominant culture" through shared experiences

Mass communication helps define who we are, our place in our society, and helps us understand our world.

So are we better off with a dominant culture based on mass media? Foreign countries have, since the 1920's, limited the import of American entertainment programs like film and TV shows. They fear their unique culture will become Americanized.

We'll look at this fear of "cultural contamination" later in the course.

Calvin and Hobbs
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©Bill Waterson

Calvin understands the importance of media in creating a dominant culture.

"The growing clout of Wal-Mart and the other big discount chains - they now often account for more than 50 percent of the sales of a best-selling album, more than 40 percent for a best-selling book, and more than 60 percent for a best-selling DVD - has bent American popular culture toward the tastes of their relatively traditionalist customers.

"They have obviously reached the Bush-red audience in a big way," said Laurence J. Kirshbaum, chairman of AOL Time Warner's books unit, referring to the color coding used on television news reports to denote states voting for President George W. Bush during the last election. "It has been a seismic shift in the business, and to some of us in publishing it has been a revelation."

But with the chains' power has come criticism from authors, musicians and civil liberties groups who argue that the stores are in effect censoring and homogenizing popular culture. The discounters and price clubs typically carry an assortment of fewer than 2,000 books, videos and albums, and they are far more ruthless than specialized stores about returning goods if they fail to meet a minimum threshold of weekly sales."

Click here to read "Shaping Cultural Tastes."

But the growth of "niche" communications narrows that "dominant culture"

"SpongeBob SquarePants" means something to a 4 year old.
"Beam me up Scotty" makes sense to someone of my generation.

But, as we'll learn in this module, mass media isn't mass anymore. As it's become more fragmented, its power to create a dominant culture is weakened. Does a dominant culture even exist in a nation of niches and bounded cultures? We'll look at this in the next section.

Except for one form of mass media, advertising.

While media may no longer be mass, advertising is. We'll talk more about the impact of advertising in Module 4.

Violator Album Cover

A new culture emerging?

Some social commentators believe a new culture is emerging among heavy internet users. Often called "viral culture," it rewards narrow thinking by reducing complex ideas to "nanostories". It's ironic that television news is accused of the same thing, reducing complex ideas to "sound bytes".

Click here to read "How viral culture is changing how we learn, share, create, and interact."

After you've completed the Reading mentioned above, go to the Assignments page and complete the second Assignment.
Go on to Part 3 - The Functions and Effects of Culture
Go back to Part 1 - What is Culture?
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